Review: Lord of the Flies


Richard Lutz is at The Birmingham Rep for the William Golding classic.

There is a tale that author William Golding, as a schoolmaster, once decided to let his students divide into two camps and debate without his supervision.

The story goes that he had to jump in when it chaotically spiralled into violent argument and mayhem. The descent without the structure of a civilising force was quick, dizzyingly fast. There is inherent evil in all of us if not controlled he found.

It is no coincidence that he wrote Lord of the Flies soon afterward. This 1954 novel is about a group of schoolboys left to their own devices on an island, who slip into a frenzy without someone to rein in their passions and their insanity.

The Birmingham Rep stages this disturbing tale this week. It is based on a re-write by poet Nigel Williams and it does summon up graphically what occurs when a group of children descend into crazed violence. In a small way you see it every day in a schoolyard (though controlled) and probably experienced it yourself when, as a kid,  you had gangs, hideouts, petty rivalries that could have suddenly spun out of control.

The play does seem a bit ‘shouty’ at times. And some of the acting does creak along in a manic sixth form style. But it is a young cast. And then again maybe that is just what the producers desired – a rough magic that takes over the theatre with no light nor shade.

So, for sheer force, physicality and horror, Lord of the Flies works. Director Timothy Sheader creates a jumbled triple-tiered set where the divided schoolboys can camp, climb a mountain (and throw a victim from it) and live in the mangled wreckage of their plane that crashed leaving them to fend for themselves. It makes for total action, total mayhem.

The cast is believable as boys gone bonkers, a tribe that could have re-emerged on the film set of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. A special nod to Anthony Roberts as Piggy, the fat and bullied outsider who shows courage by standing up for what is right and dies for it when confronting the madness around him.

Lord of the Flies is a good play from a great book. And, to choose a quote from English philosopher Thomas Hobbes, a stark warning:“The condition of Man is a condition of War.”

Until 7th November. Tickets 0121 236 4455